The Maid and Other Women Like Her: A Filipina Immigrant Perspective

hotel maid

The Dominique Strauss-Kahn scandal has shed light on the abuse of hotel workers. (Photo: karramarro/flickr)

Humping the help, let me say, is not just a Sacramento, CA phenomenon.

In the Philippines, where I come from, it is not unusual for the head of the household to help himself to a servant. When the wife finds out, the maid is often kicked out of the house.

Sometimes, the amo (employer) and the atsay (maid) find true love, they both leave the household and stay together as man and wife. As there is no divorce in the Philippines, most certainly no alimony is expected by the family left behind. If the man has means, maybe he’s a lawyer or a company executive, he will support both of his families. But many middle-class machos just leave and see no need to provide for their wife and children.

Sometimes the employer gets to keep both the wife and the maid. To avoid gossip, especially concerning a couple enjoying an exalted position in the community, the wife will just learn to accept her husband’s brutish behavior. Sometimes, the teenage son may find the maid a convenient way to be initiated into sex; sometimes there is paternal incitement, sometimes not.

Sometimes, as is being reported in the case of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver, the wife is the last to know. She finds out from a neighbor, or the maid, who is heavy with child and quits in a jiffy. She can do one of several things — yes, the wife has weird options: she can arrange to adopt the maid’s child — especially if the child is beautiful or is gifted – and raise him/her as her own; or the wife cusses out the husband and after a period of hysterical screaming and crying hires another maid who looks like a male version of a grandmother.

Legend has it that the flamboyant former first lady of the Philippines Imelda Marcos was born to a pretty ‘house help’ who was working for the wealthy political Romualdez clan from the central Philippine province of Leyte. According to an unauthorized tell-all, Imelda and her siblings were allowed by the original family to live in the estate’s garage to hush-hush the affair. With Imelda’s story assuming myth-like qualities at the height of the Marcos’ popularity, some Filipinos have come to believe that illegitimate children are blessed with good karma. I have a distant uncle who slept with the maid. His wife, a kind-hearted and prayerful Catholic, has learned to accept the daughter as theirs. She ended up being very successful in her career.

It’s not just the maid. It could be the young office assistant, the newspaper intern, the teaching apprentice, the starlet, or anyone who finds herself in a situation where the man wields enormous power because of his position and means. Sometimes, as in the case of former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn accused of assaulting a Manhattan hotel cleaning woman, the victim is not even directly employed by the man. But in any feudal structure where the male thinks he rules over a fiefdom and has earned the right to rape, he can do anything to the servant.

In most cases the woman meekly accepts her fate and moves on with the help of some hush money. In the rare instances that she finds the courage to fight back, she is ridiculed as the seducer.

In Asia sexual harassment is difficult to prosecute because of the cultural taboo that seems to suggest it is not a crime but something men are entitled to. But in countries like Japan and the Philippines, where women are becoming more aware of their rights, laws against “hostile work sexual harassment” are being legislated. Whether they are being enforced is an entirely different matter, considering that police officers, lawyers, prosecutors and judges are typically male – a gender barrier that is the first hurdle.

Strange that in our time far removed from the era of the Inquisition, women accusers of sexual harassment are still being “stoned” in the media. The Guinean immigrant who is Strauss-Khan’s alleged victim is being flamed as part of a political conspiracy to dunk his candidacy for president of France. The Latina maid who bore Schwarzenegger a son is being caricatured as ugly and portly compared to the smart and alluring Maria Shriver.

Around the world women still struggle for the most basic right all, the right to be treated like a human being.

Cristina Pastor is the founder and publisher of  The FilAm, an online magazine for Filipino Americans in New York.

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